From the Director





by Rex Parker, PhD

New Season Begins at AAAP’s Washington Crossing Observatory. The late winter surge that Punxsutawney Phil warned about made our preparations for the new season at Washington Crossing a little harder. But we’re ready now — the hardware and software upgrades have come a long way, thanks to Observatory Chairs Dave & Jennifer Skitt and other members. The new Windows-10 PC’s are in place and ready to control the two Paramounts — the sophisticated computer-controlled equatorial mounts now running under “TheSkyX” (Software Bisque’s latest, major upgrade over the previous Sky 6 version). With the recent installation of a Verizon high speed fiber optic internet connection at the observatory, TheSkyX can also be accessed using Teamviewer12 remote software from home PCs.

The Observatory is for all club members. It is our main hub for observing, member gatherings, and public outreach. You don’t need to be an expert, just come out on Friday public nights (Apr-Oct). If you want to become a hands-on observer (or access remotely) and learn more about the celestial sphere, telescope hardware, software, and technical aspects, I urge you to contact me or other Board members, or contact Dave and Jennifer (Observatory committee). We offer specific training for members to become new “Keyolders” who can access the Observatory and its equipment 24/7/365. Also note the members nights coming up (see below).

Telescope equipment at AAAP’s Washington Crossing Observatory now includes:
Paramount-ME #1
• Celestron-14 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (14 inch), D = 355 mm, f/11, FL = 3900 mm
• New Stellarview 80 mm right-angle finder scope on the C14.
• Explore Scientific ED127 refractor telescope (5 inch), f/7.5, FL = 950 mm, triplet air spaced apochromatic refractor.
• Mallincam Xterminator, color video camera attached to the ED127 refractor for live video astronomy on the monitors in the observatory
Paramount-ME #2
• Hastings-Byrne 6-1/4 inch refractor, f/14.6, FL = 2310 mm. Historic instrument dates to 1871, air-spaced doublet lens. Glass and tube original from 1871.
• Takahashi Mewlon-250, 10 inch Dall-Kirkham reflector telescope, with 2 inch TMB Optical dielectric-diagonal and Feathertouch 2 inch Crayford focuser
• New Televue eyepieces, Panoptic 27 mm and 41 mm, for the Mewlon-250

Seeking AAAP outreach co-chair. AAAP is noted for public outreach – we help people of all stages of learning and interest enhance their study of the universe we live in from an astronomy perspective. We need a member or two to step up and help current Outreach Co-Chair David Letcher in the outreach endeavor. This involves communicating with teachers and other educators, community groups, and scout troop leaders to coordinate astronomy events with club members’ participation. These typically involve observing with telescopes at night at our Observatory or on location at schools, parks, and public facilities. Please contact me or David ( if you can help.

AAAP Activities Coming Up
Night-sky refresher at Planetarium (May 13, 2017). We’re reprising the “night sky refresher” session so that members can improve deep sky skills. The Planetarium’s amazing capabilities will be on display as AAAP member and Planetarium staffer Bill Murray runs the system. Meet on May 13 at 10AM. The Planetarium is located at the NJ State Museum, 205 W State St in Trenton.

Members night star parties at the Observatory Sat. May 27 & June 24. These nights are reserved for AAAP members (friends and family welcome) at our Observatory on May 27 and June 24. A great opportunity to learn more about observing and telescope equipment, and get to know others in the club.

Solar eclipse plans (Aug 21, 2017). Several AAAP members are making plans to view the upcoming total solar eclipse in Oregon. If you’re interested in participating contact assistant director Larry Kane. The chosen locale is near the town of Monmouth OR, where one of our members has a family connection, which is in the path of totality running W to E across the U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina. Of course, a clear sky is key, and August weather considerations are favorable at this site. NJ and surrounding states will see only a partial eclipse, far less impressive than totality.

Posted in April 2017, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

From the Assistant Director

by Larry Kane, Assistant Director

There are a couple of issues that needed to be brought to your attention:
I wanted to provide the AAAP membership an update on the planned trip to view the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. Through determined negotiation, without the benefit of having read The Art of the Deal, I was able to reserve eight motel rooms within an hour drive of where we will view the eclipse. At this point in time, five of these rooms have been requested by AAAP members. So, there are three left. As I have put all of the room reservations on my credit card, I will soon have to relinquish any of them that are not soon, spoken for. So, come one and come all, at least three more of you.

Sunday, April 30 will be the annual extravaganza known as Communiversity Day in Princeton. We have, again, been invited by the organizers from the university to participate in this event which can draw 30,000 people in one day to downtown Princeton. Past events were very successful as we were able to hand out several hundred pieces of literature, talk to hundreds of people, and show them what their closest star looks like in a telescope. We hope to repeat these successes this year. So, I am requesting each of you to become a part of this event by attending, with or without a telescope, and helping to share our knowledge and awe of the cosmos. Please think about it and either contact me to say you will help with the event and/or see me at the next AAAP meeting and give me your contact information so we can help make this the best Communiversity Day ever. If you will not be able to attend the meeting, please send me an email at: By the way, if anyone has a good lead for affordable flights to Portland, OR, please let me know.

I hope to see everyone to discuss both of these monumental events at the next meeting.

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‘The Glass Universe’- April 11, 2017 Lecture

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

The April AAAP meeting is on the 11th at 7:30PM in Peyton Hall on the Princeton University campus. The talk is by author Dava Sobel, author of “Longitude”, on her latest book “The Glass Universe”. After the talk there will be a break for a book signing. Labyrinth books will be on hand with books for purchase. You can save some time by buying your book(s) prior to the signing. They accept payment in cash, checks, or credit card.

In the mid-19th century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers”, to interpret the observations made via telescope by their male counterparts each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but by the 1880s the female corps included graduates of the new women’s colleges—Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith.

Dava Sobel

Dava Sobel

As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates. The “glass universe” of half a million plates that Harvard amassed in this period—thanks in part to the early financial support of another woman, Mrs. Anna Draper, whose late husband pioneered the technique of stellar photography —enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight

Their ranks included Williamina Fleming, a Scottish woman originally hired as a maid who went on to identify 10 novae and more than 300 variable stars; Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system that was adopted by astronomers the world over and is still in use; and Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin, who in 1956 became the first ever woman professor of astronomy at Harvard—and Harvard’s first female department chair.

Prior to the meeting there will be a meet-the-speaker dinner at 6PM at Winberie’s in Palmer Square in Princeton. The dinner is members-only and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis with a limit of 18 club members. NOTE: Guests will be accommodated only if less than 18 club members wish to attend.

If you’re interested in attending the dinner please contact me at In your request please indicate who’s the paid member and who is the guest (Limit 1 guest per member).

As mentioned last month, we’re planning to schedule a short meeting (of about 30-45 minutes) in April to seek club member’s suggestions for speakers for next year. The proposed meeting dates are April 19, or 26 at about 7PM in Peyton Hall. If you’re interested in participating please email me indicating which days is good for you (in order of preference). We’re particularly interested in suggestions about amateur astronomer related topics. Based on the responses I will schedule the meeting based on member preference and room availability. If you can’t make any of these dates please email me with your suggestions. Please include the speaker’s name, subject matter, and affiliation.

See you on Tuesday, April 11.

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Outreach Report

by David Letcher, Outreach Chair

The weather has been a “thorn in our sides” during this winter and early spring season of 2017. A star party at one of our regular schools, the Stuart Country Day School was scheduled in January but after 3 postponements they decided to wait until next fall to reschedule. A star party at Hopewell Elementary School was scheduled for March 24th but the NWS forecast was for cloudy weather. It was their annual science night so their side of the night was indoors. But Dave and Jennifer Skitt went there anyway and were able to show the children some sky objects as the students and parents left the building on their way to the parking lot. (The NWS forecast was a false alarm!)

Another star party was scheduled for an “astronomy night” in East Brunswick but was postponed until the fall.

I have been getting a slight increase in the number of requests from scout troops, both cub, boys, and girls. The problems for us is that, on the one hand, some are interested in having a volunteer come to one of their meetings, or on the other, a request to visit the observatory on a Saturday night. I have suggested they attend our weekly open houses as one alternative arrangement.

The latest request is for a volunteer to attend a private birthday party and entertain the guests with possible sky views and astronomy knowledge. This is a new type of request. Director Rex has asked us to express our opinions on whether we should engage in such activities.

I have noticed that, over the recent years, it has become a little more difficult to get members to volunteer for star parties; an issue that should be addressed.

Now that sunset is later in the evening, we won’t get any more school requests. They will start up again in the Fall.

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Treasurer’s Report

by Michael Mitrano, Treasurer

At this point in our fiscal year, which will end on June 30, we have just hit the 100-member mark. Dues revenue at this point is up about 14% from a year ago.

Total revenue for the fiscal year to date is about $6,000, with $1,300 of that from donations received in memory of Gene Ramsey. His extended family was particularly generous in their support.

We have spent about $5,600 during the year for the 4th telescope and related improvements at the observatory. As a result of this planned expense, we show a deficit for the year to date of about $4,300. I expect normal operating costs between now and the end of June to be modest, and likely to be offset by dues income from new or renewing members.

On a cumulative basis, the AAAP’s surplus is about $18 thousand.

Posted in April 2017, November 2014, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Member Resolutions for Astronomy 2017

by Rex Parker, Director

Here’s a synopsis of resolutions offered by members during the January meeting at Peyton Hall, shortly after the start of the new year. Encouraging and provocative!

• Do not let every clear sky night go unobserved
• Embark on a program to observe all the Messier Objects
• While I resolve to not make resolutions, nonetheless observe more this year (e.g. comets)
• Learn to use my telescope, get to know telescopes better (multiple)
• Purchase a new telescope
• Refrain from trying to acquire every new astro gadget that comes onto the market
• Acquire suitable binoculars for astronomy (multiple)
• Acquire or build a binocular mount to make binox more capable
• Figure out how to use my iOptron CEM60 mount & solar tracker, assistance welcome
• Make a guide star laser
• Learn about astrophotography; participate in workshop with club’s CCD camera (multiple)
• Become proficient using my video imaging system
• Spend more time using Mallincam video at WC Observatory
• Help ensure that video astronomy experience at WC is as good as it can be — frame grabber, other alternatives?
• Having gotten a handle on polar and go-to alignment, I seek to develop real-time observation capability with a camera.
• Use AAAP observatory more often, per talk with Gene Ramsey before he passed away
• As new Keyholder, get more practice with telescopes at the Observatory
• Introduce one or more persons to astronomy – friend family, neighbor
• Attend a star party at Cherry Springs PA
• View the solar eclipse with other AAAP members in Oregon (multiple)
• Field trip to a radio astronomy site
• Read Sky & Telescope magazine often to be more aware of upcoming events
• Continue to attend AAAP lectures
• Understand basics & advanced astronomy, complement mission of AAAP (multiple)
• Learn about string theory

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Elysium Planitia, al dente – to the teeth

Theodore R. Frimet

Really? I went to UACNJ, at Jenny Jump, the other day for a pasta dinner, and let me tell you fellow Astronomers, it was simply scrumptious! Janet and I had taken to the road much earlier, than expected, in an effort to maybe get some solar observations in, by 2 PM. No such luck, though. As we drove up Rt 31, the clouds appeared to open up in “Simpson’s Style” showing the beautiful underbelly of blue skies above. Then, a barometric drop fell into place, probably corresponding with some outer world cosmic effect, dropping in the clouds, by the butt load.

After arriving at Jenny Jump, and with much patience, and reading my current favorite “No State Shall Abridge” by Michael Kent Curtis (Duke University Press 1986), the clouds were put into abeyance by said cosmic beings. UACNJ Treasurer (NWJAA member) Chris Callie, stepped up to the plate, grabbed a mount and the Lunt, with its h-alpha filter. He gave me some instruction, and with only a few minutes of cloud gap to spare, I was starry eyed at seeing my first solar prominence. Hurray! The day was saved!

Hours earlier, while sitting, reading and chatting, I speculated on the possibility of a laser inducing a mass drive. Our plasma mass sitting well forward of our space craft, gets bombarded by laser light, increasing its mass and gravitational attraction for our Mars bound vessel. And forward we go into the direction of new habitation. And then the topic of terra-forming bubbled to the surface. And I dissented, like so many abolitionists of 1866 vintage.

Having finally gotten around to reading about CRISPR, for the second time, and no longer grasping at so many proverbial straws, I said “just change the genome”. I mean, why not? Why go to all the effort to make another worlds environment suitable for humans, … so anthropomorphic…, when you can cut and paste a new DNA segment to support vital and basic metabolism for life functions?

Alas, no longer do the time honored verses of “Love is Like Oxygen” from ELO, or the music group, Sweet…

    Love is Like Oxygen
    You get too much, you get too high,
    Not enough and you’re gonna die.
    Love gets you high

The new love is to backtrack to our to evolutionary past. There are chemical reactions that provide life sustaining energy sources, other than our Krebs Cycle (aka citric acid cycle, aka tricarboxylic acid cycle, yada yada yada). And it could not be too far a future quest to identify protein complexes that will trap, and coordinate simpler chemical reactions to provide life sustaining energy. Producing the DNA sequence to gang-chain the necessary amino acids to produce said proteins, is becoming, in short measure, kitchen bio-chemistry.

So all that is really required, is to get past the smaller stumbling blocks of CRISPR. One of which is when the DNA repairs itself, incorrectly, before it gets its chance to incorporate the new DNA strip. Which results in genetic mosaics, and is not desirable.

Unfortunately, for moi, I was quickly counter-sniped into it being recommended that I am the first to go thru such a transformation. Fortunately, a calmer mind prevailed, leading us to this article, and the recommendation that we go forward with altering the genome of the nematode (C. elegans). The nematode is one of my most trusted allies in the garden. A close second, comes to mind, in the form of a mosquito. The little biting sucker happens to be, unfortunately, my animal kindred spirit (damn you mother nature). So given a choice between the little biting bastard of the summer, or my friend, the insert larvae hunting search and destroy nemesis, I choose Mr. nematode to become the first inhabitant of Mars.

So gear up your CRISPER/Cas9, because we have a low cost way of inhabiting Elysium.

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The States of Matter

by Prasad Ganti

As I listened to a science lecture on a Saturday morning, “Science on Saturdays” at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, the title was related to interaction of plasma with the surfaces. It made me think when the speaker made a point that most of the matter in our Universe is not solids or liquids, but gas and plasma instead. This contrasts with what we find in our daily lives on our Earth.

The three dominant states of matter we experience on the Earth are solid, liquid and gas. Solids are the rocky surface on which we stand and live. Liquids like water are so crucial for life on Earth. The colorless and odorless gas called air is what we breathe. We ourselves are made of solid bone and water. We are married to our solid smartphones and liquid alcohol and perfume. The foods we eat are made of solids and liquids, but not of gases or plasma. Yet the solids and liquids do not figure in the list of prominent entities in the Universe. How strange!

Plasma is found only in stars as they possess very high pressures and temperatures. The gases in such conditions exist in ionized state in which the electrons are stripped off from the central nucleus. On the Earth, nuclear fusion reactors contain Plasma. This is only an experiment to harness the nuclear energy by trying to bottle the Sun on Earth.

How does gas and plasma come into the picture across the Universe ? The Universe consists of billions of galaxies. Each galaxy consisting of billions of stars. Stars consist mainly of Hydrogen and Helium in a plasma form. Then there is interstellar gas and dust which could be remnants of a dead star and can lead to the birth of new stars. Some of the stars may be having one or more planets. Some of them could be rocky planets, and some gas giants. Our own solar system consists of inner planets up to Mars which have solid surfaces and the outer gas giants starting from Jupiter. The gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are much bigger compared to the inner rocky planets.

Of all the known hundred or so chemical elements we know so far, only two of them dominate the Universe. Hydrogen and Helium. Rest of the elements are trivial. The Universe was formed with mostly Hydrogen and some Helium. The composition of the elements did not change substantially in the last thirteen billion years or so. Later elements like Lithium, Boron, carbon etc. got formed, but still their quantities do not have an impact on the overall composition of the Universe.

A strange thing is that Hydrogen in the gaseous form is found only in trace quantities on the Earth. Helium is still rarer. Almost all helium on the planet is a by-product of natural gas extraction process which releases this inert gas produced by slow radioactive decay of terrestrial rock. It was detected in 1868 by French astronomer Jules Janssen during a total solar eclipse while analyzing the spectrum from Sunlight. This new element was named as Helium after the Greek name for Sun which is Helios. Bottomline is that whatever dominates the Earth is trivial in the Universe. Likewise, whatever dominates the Universe is trivial on Earth.

What do other intense astronomical objects like neutron stars and black holes contain ? Neutron stars are very dense matter. At those levels, there are no chemical elements. Black holes do not contain solids, liquids or gases in their native form. These objects are gravitational extremities and do not contain matter as we know it on Earth.

Muddying the waters is the fact that the normal matter, which is dominated by Hydrogen and Helium, is only a minor piece of the overall cosmic puzzle. Universe is supposed to be dominated by dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter and energy make much of the Universe unknown. And it is fair to say that Hydrogen and Helium dominate only the known part of our Universe.

Earth itself is very insignificant in the Universe. Given its size in our own Solar system, given the size of our Solar system in the Milky Way, given the position of Milky Way in the local cluster of galaxies etc. And now we know that whatever is found on Earth is insignificant as well, not just its size. The big picture is really big indeed.

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compiled by Arlene & David Kaplan

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket - NASA

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket – NASA

What Does SpaceX’s Reusable Rocket Mean for Space Travel?
This week a major milestone in spaceflight took place. SpaceX, the private company with big dreams for manned spaceflight, launched a partly used rocket into orbit at a lower cost than building a brand new one…more

Formations resulting from two tsunami waves - BBC

Formations resulting from two tsunami waves – BBC

Impact crater linked to Martian tsunamis
Scientists have located an impact crater linked to powerful tsunamis that swept across part of ancient Mars. The team believes an asteroid triggered 150m-high waves when it plunged into an ocean thought to have existed on northern Mars three billion years ago…more

Mars today is cold and dry

Mars today is cold and dry

Most of Mars’ air was ‘lost to space’
It is clear now that a big fraction of the atmosphere of Mars was stripped away to space early in its history.

A new analysis, combining measurements by the Maven satellite in orbit around the Red Planet and the Curiosity rover on its surface indicate there was probably once a shroud of gases to rival even what we see on Earth today…more



Europa: Our best shot at finding alien life?
Europa holds a vast, salty ocean beneath its fractured ice shell. After two decades of development and “heartbreak”, scientists are on the verge of sending missions to explore the ocean world of Europa. Could this be our best shot at finding life elsewhere in the Solar System?…more

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